Jacob Durling was unhappy at his big law firm job, so he decided to use the skills he learned in law school to create his own career as a managing partner in an investment fund for residential real estate.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
I am a managing partner at an investment fund that purchases, remodels, and holds residential real estate. My workdays include everything from drafting fund and entity formation documents to attending tax conferences focused on Section 1031 like-kind exchanges to wearing a hazmat suit so that I could pull a dead raccoon out of a 2-foot-high crawl space (that was not the best day of work…). As such, I don’t really have typical days. I started out swinging a hammer most days; now I spend a lot more time creating and running investment models in Excel or doing legal work. But I still get to be on a job site a couple of days a week, which I really enjoy. It’s a great mix.
How did you find your job?
I made it up! I left big law because my priorities didn’t mesh with the expectations of a young associate, and I needed to get out. I took a job working as a handyman for $20 per hour with my father. My wife, then a senior manager in KPMG’s tax group, and I started to look into purchasing and remodeling our own properties. We researched the local markets, identified a handful of targets, and approached our eventual investors with a back-of-the-envelope plan. Two years later, we are co-managing partners of a multilayered investment fund with real estate holdings throughout the northern Front Range. It’s a job that I never had thought of before, but absolutely love.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
Even though I ended up creating my own job, I cannot say enough about the Career Development Office at Colorado Law. I was pretty lost when I started my job search to leave big law—I knew what I did not want to do, but had no idea what I wanted to do. The CDO helped me narrow my focus, answered thousands of questions, connected me with dozens of potential leads, and followed up well after I had started our fund to make sure I was doing all right. I can’t say enough about how incredible they were.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
I use basic legal skills on a daily basis, whether it is reviewing contracts, writing offers, deciphering city of Boulder municipal code, or even figuring out budgets and schedules on a new project (these are logic-based exercises, and so much of legal training was learning to apply logic to fact patterns). Legal writing, as pedantic as it seemed as a 1L, remains the basis of most of my persuasive correspondence. And I use Professor Scott Peppet’s negotiations class every day; it provided a superb platform for thinking about and executing negotiations, from the daily interactions with subcontractors to high-dollar property acquisitions.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
My professional network has made a difference in my career by enabling me to quickly find and employ competent counsel. I am no longer using my network to find legal work; instead, I am now a client seeking good lawyers. I left law before I developed a practice, so I have to rely on outside counsel for most substantive legal work. I have been consistently impressed with the competence of the folks in my network that we have employed.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
This is going to sound like I am punting and perhaps I should go with the more vigorous “Find a job you love!,” but realities like families or student debt necessarily factor into job considerations. So my not-so-tremendously-deep advice is this: find a job that you are not going to hate. If you love it, awesome, great, congrats—I will be very proud of you and we can swap stories about loving our jobs over coffee sometime. But, really, just make sure you do not hate it. Because you will eventually leave a job you hate and it is hard to start over. I know—I tried, and there were three challenges to switching fields. First, it was hard to explain to prospective employers in a new field why I did not pursue the field when I was in law school. It was a much harder sell than deciding between litigation and corporate work during on-campus interviewing. Second, convincing folks that my move was more than just a knee-jerk response to a bad situation was challenging. And third, I was now behind peers in terms of relevant work experience in that new field. It was hard, and I got rejected a lot. Ultimately, it turned out really well, and I was able to able to step back and figure out what I really wanted to do. I got lucky and found a job that I love that is in a field that I find to be incredibly interesting and that accommodates my role as a father and husband. I think everyone can find a dream job. But as a current student, that job may not be there on day one. So start by making sure you don’t hate your first one.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
First, I would ask if they wanted to be in Colorado long-term. Colorado Law offers an unparalleled track into making a career—whether that career is legal, legal-related, or only kind-of-sort-of-related to law—in the state of Colorado. So many potential employers are alumni or have had great experiences with alumni that it makes it a lot easier to secure meaningful work than if you chose a comparable school elsewhere and tried to move here after law school. Second, and the numbers support this, Colorado Law is a tremendous value for a superb education. There are so many emerging programs, engaged faculty members, alumni, and community members, and the cost to access all of this is really amazing.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
See my answer for what I would say to a potential law student! First and foremost, my wife and I wanted to live in Colorado. I also liked the value proposition at Colorado Law, which allowed me to figure out if I wanted to go into public interest work (I didn’t) instead of feeling like I had to go into corporate work (turned out I didn’t want to do that either). Ultimately, I felt like it provided a lifestyle that we found really appealing while also offering a quality education at a reasonable price.